The Approximate Book of Mormon Translation Timeline was an interesting
article to research. It is an attempt to put an at least approximate
date on each of those events which were recorded from the time Joseph Smith
received the Book of Mormon plates, until the time that the translation was completed. To skeptics let me assure them that I have found Joseph Smith's history to be very reliable. There is enough time to accomodate the occurrence of all the events chronicled, and in some instances, just enough time. External sources corroborate the basic history, supplying supplemental information and detail.
Events in Church History more precisely identified
An attempt was made to put a best possible guess
on the date of occurrence of each of the described events, many of which were recorded
only in bits and pieces by those who participated in those events.
It is instructive to be able to put a reasonable and approximate date on many of
the events recorded in church History. For example, to within a close
|116 manuscript pages stolen
||116 manuscript pages stolen
~Wednesday, July 9, 1828
| D&C 3, received
||D&C 3, received
~Wednesday, July 16, 1828
|D&C 4, received
||D&C 4, received
~Wednesday, February 4, 1829
|D&C 10, received
Summer of 1828
||D&C 10:1-5 received
~Monday, September 22, 1828
D&C 10:6-70 received
Wednesday, May 27, 1829
|Visit to Dr. C. Anthon
||Visit to Dr. C. Anthon
~Monday, February 25, 1829
Nearly all of the events which occurred between September 1827 and June 1829 which are not specifically dated in Church History have been able have the time of their occurrence more closely identified.
"Small Plates of Nephi First" versus "Small Plates
of Nephi Last"
For years there have been two distinct theories of the sequence of the
translation of the Book of Mormon. The first, called the "Small Plates
First" theory, surmises that after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages,
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery went back and translated the Small Plates
of Nephi before continuing on with the translation of the remainder of
the Book of Mormon.
The second theory, called the "Small Plates Last" theory surmises that
after the loss of the 116 pages, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery continued
on with the translation of the Book of Mormon in sequence, not translating
the Small Plates of Nephi until after the remainder of the Book of Mormon
translation had been completed.
This paper substantiates the Small Plates of Nephi Last theory for the following
After losing the 116 pages, Joseph Smith was told to "continue on unto
the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun"
[D&C 10:3]: He was not instructed to start over again at the
beginning, translating this time from the other set of plates.
The initial transcriptions of the translation of the Small Plates of Nephi
are still extant, and begin with 1 Nephi 1, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. If the small Plates of Nephi were translated before the remainder of the Book of Mormon, then there would have been nothing at all translated between the loss of the 116 pages and the arrival of Oliver Cowdery on April 5, 1828. This directly contradicts the word of the Lord in D&C 5:30 in which he says: "... I say unto thee Joseph, when thou hast translated a few more pages thou shalt stop for a season, even until I command thee again; then thou mayest translate again." This statement clearly indicates that Joseph had resumed translating before the arrival of Oliver Cowdery. This resumption of translation is also recorded by Lucy Smith's account.
- The first few pages of translation of the
Small Plates of Nephi are extant, and the first page is in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. However, after only one day, the handwriting changes with two different
scribes writing for at least the next four days of translation before the
handwriting of Oliver Cowdery returns. The unknown handwriting is
not that of Emma, nor is it that of Samuel Smith, who are the only other
two interested parties who might reasonably have been present when the translation
was resumed after the loss of the 116 pages. It seems unlikely after
all his efforts and zeal to become Joseph Smith's scribe, that Oliver would
relinquish the pen to two different people for a total of four days, after
having only written for one day himself. It is much more reasonable
to assign the translation of 1 Nephi 1 to the time frame when Joseph and
Oliver had just arrived at the Whitmer farm, after having already written
some 300 pages of manuscript.
I find it supportive of the Small Plates Last theory that there is a correlation
between D&C 6 and Alma 37 which yields a plausible explanation for
Oliver's desire to translate at that time. Although such a correspondence is not necessary, I have been unable to
find any similar correlation in the Small Plates First theory.
I find it supportive of the Small Plates Last theory that there is a correlation
between D&C 7 and Alma 45:18-19 which could readily explain why Joseph and
Oliver were discussing translated beings. I have not found any valid
time correlation which would support the alternative theory.
I find it supportive of the Small Plates Last theory that there is a strong
correlation between 3Ne 27:19-20 and the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood
described in D&C 13. The Small Plates First theory would have
the Aaronic Priesthood restoration occurring sometime during the translation
of the final chapters of Alma, in which I find no obvious stimulus.
I find it supportive of the Small Plates Last theory that there are several
points of correlation in wording between Moroni 10 and D&C 11 which
may indicate a time correspondence between those two writings. I
find it even more supportive that the sequence of events as recorded by Joseph
Smith in History of the Church places the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood
(D&C 13) before the revelation of D&C 11 to Hyrum Smith.
I find it supportive of the Small Plates Last theory that there is a reasonable
association between the translation of 2Nephi 2 and D&C 14, 15
and 16 for which a similarity may exist in the Small Plates First theory,
but I have been unable to identify it. In the Small Plates First
theory, D&C 14, 15 and 16 would have to correspond in time to the translation
of 3 Nephi.
The Three Witnesses - Foreknowledge of Sin
I find it interesting that in the Small Plates Last theory, 2Nephi 27:12-13
reveals the need for three witnesses to the Book of Mormon within five
days of the completion of the translation, while in the Small Plates First
theory Ether 5:1-5 reveals the need for three witnesses to the plates which
are being translated within five days of the completion of the translation.
It is just possible that the Lord prepared for two scenarios, one in which
the 116 pages would be lost, and another in which they would not be lost, thus
allowing someone, perhaps the individual who stole the manuscript pages, some personal agency in the course he would persue. One possible explanation is that success of the Lords plan must necessarily be independent of foreknowledge that some specific individual will committ a particular sin. This would allow the sinner to be appropriately judged instead of being able to claim that he had to commit the sin or the Lord's plan would have failed. This is an interesting philosophical concept which needs to be examined in more detail.
Rate of translation of the Book of Mormon
Various approximations have been made of the rate of translation of the book of Mormon. Estimates of around 7 to 7.5 pages per day are the most common. I have excluded the translation of the book of Mosiah from the portion of the plates which were assumed translated by Joseph Smith with Oliver Cowdery as scribe, as it appears likely to me that Mosiah had already been translated before Oliver's arrival. This reduces the volume of material which was translated during the approximately 80 day period of translation, and reasonably reduces the translation rate to approximately 6.5 pages per day.
I hope you enjoy the timeline.
Approximate Book of Mormon Translation Timeline